Lori Diaz doesn’t mince words when it comes to her baking. “I somehow accidentally stumbled upon making the best chocolate chip cookies there ever has been, and I say that with equal parts humility and bragging, and understanding that anyone who bakes cookies is going to want to fight me for those words,” she says.
Diaz makes her cookies in her home kitchen in East Sacramento and sells them through her website (hueleawelas.com). Her version of the classic gets an upgrade by way of a disk of dark chocolate that’s placed in the center before baking, creating a luscious “river of chocolate” that melts over the top of the cookie. Then, the crowning glory: a sprinkle of sea salt. “I want your mouth to water just thinking about these cookies,” says Diaz. “You just need the smallest little sprinkle to balance out the richness and give you a break from the other flavors.”
Diaz’s cottage business, Huele a Wela’s, is a product of the COVID era, when her part-time job in a dental office came to a halt. The name—Spanish for Smells Like Grandma’s—is an homage to Diaz’s grandmother, Milagro, who died in 2019 and was Diaz’s anchor during a turbulent childhood. “My mom was an addict, so the time I spent with my grandmother probably saved me from going down the path that some of my family members did,” explains Diaz. “I found a lot of solace and peace in that kitchen, but what I really learned in that kitchen was how to cook.”
Her grandmother wasn’t much of a baker, says Diaz: “She was more about rice and beans and roasted pork, a lot of traditional Puerto Rican dishes. We called it poor man food.” But everything Milagro cooked conveyed the message that food can make a bad day better.
“Serving someone a good meal is a way of saying I love you without the words,” Diaz says. “That is why I named my business what I did, because there is something truly soothing and heartwarming about my memories of walking into her apartment in Brooklyn. It was warm, it was familiar, it was comfortable.”